McGinnis: Salad Daze: Why was so much money given to such a minor cause?Written by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Over $50,000. For potato salad.
Irony is the currency of much of the modern Internet. Web surfers trade in it like Wall Street trades in stocks or bonds, except that irony is pursued with far more passion and far less concern for personal financial gain.
It’s how a figure like William Hung became a legitimate household name. It’s how “Snakes on a Plane” became a cult phenomenon before it ever saw a theater. It’s how everyone suddenly knew the answer to the question, “What does the fox say?”
And it’s how $50,000 has been raised in the name of making potato salad.
It started fairly innocently. A guy out of Columbus named Zack “Danger” Brown (get it? Danger is his middle name? Like Austin Powers? Oh, how droll!) began a fundraiser on Kickstarter, the website that has helped launch thousands of creative projects in its short lifespan. It was through a Kickstarter campaign that Levar Burton recently funded a relaunch of his classic children’s educational series “Reading Rainbow,” for example.
Brown’s goals were not quite as altruistic. He announced that his project was simply to make potato salad. That’s it. Not making potato salad for hungry people, or constructing a bowl as part of an art project. Nope. “Basically I’m just making potato salad,” wrote on the site, explaining his “project.” “I haven’t decided what kind yet.” He launched his fundraiser on July 3. His goal was a meager $10.
Under the “Risks and Challenges” section of his Kickstarter page, Brown wrote, “It might not be that good. It’s my first potato salad.”
Soon, though, the floodgates opened. People surfing the Web became obsessed with this silly little idea, as people on the Web are wont to do. Folks began to point out the campaign on social media. Websites began to report on it. Brown gave interviews on his potato salad fundraiser to the Washington Post and “Good Morning America,” for Pete’s sake.
And as more people heard about the campaign, more people visited Brown’s Kickstarter page. And more people began to actually donate. His $10 goal was met, then turned into $20. Then $40. Then $100. Then $1,000. And now, as of this writing, the power of the Internet’s love of doing things for irony’s sake has earned Brown’s fundraiser — A FUNDRAISER TO MAKE POTATO SALAD — over $50,000 from over 4,500 backers. And the campaign still has over 20 days to go.
The temptation is to get outraged. I mean, what the heck, right? Thousands of people just giving their money to this ridiculous venture? For what reason? So they can all get in on some kind of elaborate inside joke that only they know the punchline to?
I’m trying to keep a level head here, though. I’m not mad at Zack “Danger” Brown. Everything on his page and in the interviews he’s given indicates he’s just as flabbergasted by this landslide of support as any of us. It was just a little joke that has ballooned beyond anyone’s wildest expectations.
Brown also seems to be trying to manage the sudden deluge of fame (and dollars) that this project has given him. He’s discussed plans to stream the making of the potato salad online. He’s added new stretch goals to thank his supporters, like hats proclaiming their love for potato salad. And we don’t really know what he’s going to do with the money — he could have an eye on charitable works with his unexpected windfall.
I don’t really have anything against those who donated to the fundraiser, either. It’s their money, it’s their call on what they want to do with it. If any of those individuals had invested a couple of hard-earned dollars in a King-Size Snickers bar, no one would bat an eyelash. If they decided chipping in a couple bucks in the name of a silly Internet meme would give them joy, eh, it’s their choice.
I guess if I have a quarrel with the whole thing, it lies in the regret that this kind of passionate generosity isn’t as easily garnered in the name of work that can truly do some good in this world. Think of what $40,000 could do for a great starving artist. Or a homeless shelter. I mean, if even a quarter of that cash was spent buying copies of the “Red, White & You, Too!” charity CD — available at all local Ralphie’s and Frisch’s Big Boy locations! — think of what the American Red Cross of Northwest Ohio could do. (NOTE TO EDITOR: Okay, Michael, I mentioned the CD. Can I get my dog back now?)
Again, it’s our life and our choice. But next time, when the drive to celebrate something in the name of pure kitsch begins, maybe we should take a second to ask if our time — and money — would be better focused elsewhere.
(Brown’s Kickstarter can be visited at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/324283889/potato-salad)